When it comes to question marks on the Ohio State football team, the one that gets talked about most is quarterback because that’s just how football is, but the situation at linebacker has more unknowns than a choose-your-own adventure.
The Buckeyes struggled all season long at linebacker last year and the starters were frequently the targets of criticism.
Middle linebacker Tuf Borland was still recovering from an Achilles injury. Pete Werner was asked to cover more ground than the SkyCam, and even leading tackler Malik Harrison had a first half of the season that needed improved upon.
It’s clear that head coach Ryan Day wasn’t happy with the play of the linebackers last season, which is why Bill Davis is now in the NFL.
All three starters return this season, but the status quo may not apply with new linebackers coach Al Washington.
Or maybe it will.
“I wouldn’t say jobs are open, and I wouldn’t say jobs aren’t,” Washington said recently. “I wouldn’t say anything like that. Just right now I’m just getting to know them. That’s what I’m willing to say right now.”
Washington spent his first few weeks on the job in every city but Columbus, so to answer any pertinent questions about a depth chart isn’t something he is interested in doing.
“I feel like I can’t accurately answer anything on that because I’m just getting here,” he said back on signing day. “I’m literally just getting here. The past two weeks we’ve been on the road. So having a chance to see these guys work out and having a chance to watch film, you can kind of get an idea, but I want to be accurate when I answer that, so I’m anxious to see this spring really who’s going to compete. They all can run. I mean, every kid in that room is pretty talented.”
With signing day in the rear view, Washington has now been able to watch workouts and undoubtedly plenty of tape from last year. He is in a much better position than he was a few weeks ago, but nothing will be settled until he actually gets to see his football players in a football practice.
“Well, I mean, you’ve got to give the kids a chance to prove themselves to you during the spring, right?” he said. “So my take has always been to evaluate the body of work that you have, so you look at some things about last year, and then consider what you’re doing this year. And then give them a chance to show you if they can execute and do the things that you need them to do.”
What was acceptable last year does not appear to be acceptable this year, so one could expect each of last year’s starters to be better than they were a year ago. And if they aren’t, then there will be some new starters on the field for the Buckeyes in 2019.
With how well recruiting has gone for the Buckeyes under Urban Meyer, there are certainly options. One former 5-star linebacker already hit the transfer portal a few weeks ago, but there are still three others waiting in the wings.
Ohio State returns all but two linebackers from last season, and they can’t all possibly be misses on the scouting front.
Given the recruiting and the amount of experience that returns, Washington likes his chances at putting together a productive group.
“We’ll get the right pieces in the right places,” he said. “I’m confident.”